When I went to visit Prague in 2002, I followed stories instead of streets. I followed the story of Rabbi Lowe’s golem, the story of King Wenceslas, the story of Tycho Brahe’s silver nose. I followed all the interwoven histories and legends of Prague. It made for lots of walking.
My apartment was in a fairly mundane section of Prague, where cement buildings were tagged with angry scribbles of graffiti. One night, as I was walking home, I felt a stabbing pain in my foot. I expected to find a nail – or perhaps something worse –protruding from the sole of my shoe. There was nothing. I tried to take another step, but the pain was unbearable. I tried shifting my weight to a different part of my foot. No matter what I tried, I was immobilized by pain.
It was night. I was a complete stranger to everyone around me. I had no way of getting home. I felt afraid. And then I felt betrayed. How could my body refuse such an elementary request? Step forward. One step forward! Is this too much to ask? I never asked my body to do anything heroic. In return, I expected my body to move my head from place to place without any fuss.
Years ago, I remember standing in a barn, watching all of my cousins jump from the hayloft onto bales of hay down below. I stood there, poised to jump after them. Then, I noticed all the farm implements scattered around below me. My cousins were fearless, but I saw every sharp and rusty edge as the promise of harm. I decided not to jump. Neither athletic nor graceful, I knew that my body was not meant for such things. As a child, I ratified a solemn treaty with my body: it was the Peace of Low Expectations.
In Prague, I suffered a diplomatic incident with myself. Even my low expectations had been rejected. “Too much walking,” said my body. My mind was incredulous: “Have you seen Mission Impossible? Because that sets the bar for amazing physical stunts in Prague. I’m just asking you to walk!” “Too much walking,” my body insisted.
Eventually, the pain subsided. I was able to limp to my apartment. The next morning, I felt much better. But something very important had changed. Long-held treaties were back on the negotiating table. That was over 10 years ago, and my body has become ever more assertive. Now, I have to trim my eyebrows to keep hair from stabbing me in the eyes. My eyebrows!
Once, my body was willing to live quietly on the reservation. That lopsided treaty is broken forever. As I grow older, my body has claimed a new authority. I still don’t think of my body as “me.” However, my body won’t let me forget: Whoever I am, I am not in charge.